The world according to Eugene Kaspersky

The colourful cyber security expert survived blacklisting by the US government, fears IoT security weaknesses, wants to secure voting, and doesn’t believe in AI.

eugene kaspersky
Kaspersky (CC BY 2.0)

“I am a person and I have my privacy,” Kaspersky co-founder and CEO Eugene Kaspersky told CSO Australia during a recent visit to Melbourne, when asked about having his name across headlines such as “Kaspersky Lab Antivirus Software Is Ordered Off U.S. Government Computers” and “Trump signs into law U.S. government ban on Kaspersky Lab software”.

Still, in an interview with CSO Australia, Kaspersky did discuss some of the fallout from that period. He said that there was a time when a discussion regarding the name of the company took place due to the bad publicity and that he was against changing it. “I think that was the right decision. I think I will not change it”, Kaspersky said. The name did later change, but from Kaspersky Lab to simply Kaspersky.

How Kaspersky dealt with the US government’s ban

In late 2017, the Trump administration ordered US government agencies to move away from using Kaspersky products, alleging that the Russia-based company was vulnerable to Kremlin influence. (It didn’t help that Kaspersky had graduated during Soviet times from the Technical Faculty of the KGB Higher School with a degree in mathematical engineering and computer technology, which suggested long-term ties with Russian intelligence.) “That happened about two and a half years ago. Since then there was no proof, no hard data. It was all the fake news from the very beginning”, Kaspersky told CSO Australia.

That accusation resulted in many problems such as technology partnerships coming to an end, reseller partners moving away from the brand, and other countries following suit and stopping using Kaspersky products. Although not all those lost partnerships have been re-established, new ones have taken place and Kaspersky is now on what its founder calls “a positive wave”.

He said many customers and partners recognised there was nothing to worry about straight away or soon after and although the company’s results are still flat, Kaspersky remains profitable. He also said that as some countries moved away from the Kaspersky brand, others moved closer and as a result Kaspersky has a stronger enterprise presence in some countries than before.

Kasperky was expecting to experience growth this year, but the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has brought a lot of uncertainty across the globe. With his typical braggadocio, Kaspersky said he wished COVID-19 was a cyber issue so he could fix it with the snap of a finger and have an antidote the next day.

Cyber security events to prepare for

Cyber crime is an ongoing, fast-moving industry, Kaspersky said. He warned of smarter cyber criminals, attacks on infrastructure systems, and the vulnerability of the internet of things (IoT). He said that his company used to fight ‘junior cyber criminals’ but there are now many getting involved with "highly professional cyber gangs" that have "criminal smart engineers”.

He expects more attacks on infrastructure systems such as power grids. Kaspersky believes there are already many cases that have gone unreported for various reasons. He said infrastructure and IoT systems need to be developed differently and be secure by design, which he believes is possible but requires vendors to change how they develop those systems.

There are already more connected devices than people in the world, devices that are not under control. Without regulation and better security built in, he sees major harm possible from attacks, cases like the Mirai botnet attack happening again and again.

Kaspersky develops a blockchain platform for voting

Recently, the Kaspersky company launched an online voting system, named Polys, that is based on blockchain technology and can be applied not only to voting but other poll-like applications.

Polys provides a secure and immutable voting system where voter anonymity is guaranteed by crypto algorithms. “This system resolves many problems. First of all, it resolves the problem of the young generation which doesn't want to go to the physical [voting locations]; they want to do it online”, Kaspersky said.

Polys can be configured as a centralised or decentralised solution. What cannot be changed is the information once entered into the system. According to Kaspersky, if the system allows for the person to change his or her mind and having first voted for candidate A but later decided to vote for candidate B, both entries will be saved, but the last one will be used in the final result.

Kaspersky claims that, with Polys, “You can't hack the election. … Every transaction is cryptographically signed, so you can’t change transactions without ruining the rest of them”. Polys was tested in the voting for the Moscow parliament.

Why Kaspersky doesn’t believe in AI

Eugene Kaspersky told a group of analysts, partners and journalists in Zurich, Switzerland in 2018 that he did not believe in artificial intelligence (AI) but in very smart algorithms. In 2020, his belief remains the same. He calls it machine learning instead of AI.

“AI is a next step in homo sapiens evolution. But now, what they call AI, it’s a machine learning system, it’s algorithms that are made to solve some particular tasks”, Kaspersky said. By contrast, “intelligence is the ability to answer unexpected questions”, Kaspersky explained. “We are far away from there I think, which I will call artificial intelligence. What we have at the moment is a very smart, very complicated, very sophisticated algorithm”.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 hot cybersecurity trends (and 2 going cold)